You want more, right? More of this? Okay, but only because I know you can handle it.
Brig hadn’t completely lost his head though. He wanted to say “Good morning Miss Marsch, how are you?” But, he knew that if he did so she would undoubtedly respond with “Mr. Coyle” as part of her answer. He didn’t know what to say so he stood there, frozen half way between the table he had just served drinks to and the counter, and kept smiling at Emmalou. He tried to think of something to say but he couldn’t get his mouth to form any fitting words. She held his smile in her gaze as long as she could before she blushed and looked away.
The magic of the moment broken, Brig finally found his voice, “How are you this morning?” He quickly followed with a second question, “What are you doing out and about so early?”
“I’m not really sure…” her voice faltered a bit as she answered. “I found myself awake early and decided to go for a walk. My walk brought me here.” She looked at him again as she finished speaking. Her beautiful blue eyes shown brilliantly even in the gloom of the bar.
“Do you often find yourself walking into bars so early in the morning?” Brig jested and took a few steps closer to her partially to be nearer to her and partially so they wouldn’t have to talk as loud to hear one another, thereby decreasing the chance that others might also hear them talking should his name slip out.
She shook her head from left to right, a small tug at her lip revealing the dimple hidden on her left cheek, but had no retort. She also took a step further into the bar, and closer to Brig.
“Miss Marsch, so wonderful to see you,” Dan’s booming voice came from just over Brig’s shoulder. The one eyed man turned and found Dan standing right beside him.
How did he sneak up on me like that?
“What brings you to my humble establishment?”
“Well, as I was just telling…”
“Fine fine,” Dan cut her off, “come on up to the counter and pull up a stool.” The proprietor took Emmalou by her hand and walked her to the front of the bar. “Can I get you something to drink? I do have some hidden gems if you’re in the mood, or soda pops if you just want something to wet your whistle, or perhaps a cup of coffee will fit the bill?”
You crazy fool, Brig thought, why are you taking her closer to the gunslingers. Brig was getting angry, could feel the heat rising within him, and felt an old familiar itch in the forefinger of his right hand and that cooled him off immediately. Absentmindedly he used the fingers from his left hand to rub away the itch on his trigger finger as he followed Dan and Emmalou up to the counter.
“Coffee. Coffee sounds lovely, thank you, though I shouldn’t be staying long.” Emmalou pulled up the stool to the left of the one Dan had been occupying earlier.
“Right away,” Brig responded as he made his way around the counter. He deposited the coins from the drinks he had just served into the strong box, grabbed a clean mug, poured in some of the strong black brew, and handed it across the counter to Miss Marsch. “Here you are. Careful, it’s still piping hot.”
While Emmalou cautiously sipped at her coffee Dan began to regale his audience, Emmalou, Brig, and the man seated to Dan’s right, with a fine tale of his youth the subject of which doesn’t really matter here because none of his audience were paying attention. The man to Dan’s right was lost in his own thoughts and getting ready to head to work anyway. Emmalou was wondering how she had ended up drinking coffee in a bar locking gazes with the notorious gunslinger. Brig, finally understood Dan’s brilliance in getting Emmalou seated, part of their conversation while also being quieted with the cup of coffee in her hand, and therefore less likely to seem out of place and also less likely to mention Brig’s name. I’ll have to remember to thank him later if this works.
Just then, the two gunslingers stood from their stools and without another word made their way out of the bar. When the door shut behind them Dan lapsed into silence and Brig gave an audible sigh of relief. Only as they made their exit did Emmalou notice the two men and she didn’t understand their import until Brig let out his sigh. Her eyes went wide and her mouth opened into a little “oh” without actually saying anything.
The man next to Dan took his leave then as well.
“Those men…” Emmalou started.
“They were looking for me,” Brig stated.
“Do you know them?” There was a slight tremor in her voice.
This is exactly the kind of trouble she was worried about. “I don’t know their names but I know them all the same from the way they carry themselves, the way they carry their guns.” She’s going to ask me to leave, and even if I hadn’t promised I would, if I want to avoid bloodshed I should go.
“What are they going to do?” The tremor was still in her voice.
Wait, is she concerned about her town or about me? It took Brig a moment to answer Emmalou. “They’ll be back here before the day is out. It won’t take them long to ask around town and figure out that ‘Brig Coyle’ is working here. I believe that may put you in a bit of a spot Dan, I’m sorry about that.”
Dan waved him off. They may be mad when they come back but there was no money in killing him, they’d leave him be as long as they were still on the trail of the man they did want.
“What are you going to do, Brig?” The question was little more than a whisper.
Brig? Brig! She didn’t call me Mr. Coyle. What does it mean? He tilted his head, a look of confusion on his face, “You called me Brig.”
She brushed him off, “What are you going to do?”
Brig would have frowned if he hadn’t been so elated that she used his first name. He was finding it impossible at the moment to think clearly and be upset about the situation. Then his thoughts moved away from his selfish grasping for a bit of happiness and on to the people in this town he had grown fond of during his short stay. He needed to protect them. The frown finally came.
“I don’t know. If I stay, they’ll track me down and there will be bloodshed. I don’t know how much help Sheriff Brown can be in this matter. They haven’t done anything wrong so there is no call to lock them up but make no mistake it is a fight they want and once they identify me they’ll keep picking at me and picking at me until there will be no alternative but a fight.
“If I go they’ll leave town faster but they may hurt the two of you and anyone else they think they can get information out of to stay on my trail. You could try to throw them off, claim ignorance of who I truly was but that couldn’t just put you in more danger. I don’t have many friends in this world, and I’m not okay with the few I have coming to harm to protect me.”
Dan and Emmalou let Brig talk. Dan had never heard so much out of the man before and was shocked into silence. Emmalou had heard Brig talk himself in circles before and knew if she let him be he’d come around again and figure out what to do.
“I could confront them, go out and find them right now, tell them who I am and see what they want from me. I’m unarmed and I don’t think they’ll draw on me as I am but that won’t stop them from sticking around town and seeing what sort of situations they can create to get a gun in my hand. I’ve seen their kind at work before.
“They are either here because they want to test themselves against ‘the best’ or to get vengeance for some past wrong I caused them or their kin. They won’t just go away when I refuse to fight them, they’ve come too far and convinced themselves this has to be done.
“I could confront them and then leave town. That would draw them away from you, away from Gunnison, but if I didn’t make sure they knew exactly where I was headed that could bring them back to your doors to find out what you know about my plans. That would serve nothing. If they do stick so close to my trail that they end up on the same train as me that could just bring harm to other innocents.
“We could try to come up with a plan to get them in trouble with Sheriff Brown and have them either locked up or sent away but that seems almost as underhanded as what they might come up with to get a gun in my hand. Trickery and subterfuge are not things I’m interested in and never have been.
“So where does that leave us? Should I stay and see how this all unfolds here or should I take to the rails again and try to start over as someone other than Brig Coyle? Neither is a good option…”
Emmalou took one last sip of her coffee, set the mug on the counter in front of her and stood. Dan, as was the polite thing to do also stood. Brig was standing to begin with so he did nothing. “For what it’s worth,” she said, “I hope you stay.” Then she turned and made her way out of the bar without another word.
“What does that mean?” Brig asked, his face contorted in confusion.
Dan laughed heartily and slapped Brig on the back, “I haven’t the foggiest. Women have always been a mystery to me.”
Dan’s laughter did little to dispel Brig’s tension and dark thoughts. He still had a decision to make and it was likely he wasn’t going to be happy with the outcome no matter what he chose to do. His thoughts had to wait though because another group of people entered that needed their early morning drinks before heading out to the mines. Brig Coyle, the bartender, went back to work.